Categories
Animation Art Movies Shorts

The Cowboy’s Flute (Mu Di, 牧笛)

Directors – Qian Jiajun, Te Wei – 1963 – China – Cert. N/C U – 20m

*****

A flute-playing forest boy loses then is reunited with his beloved water buffalo in the mountains. available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th

This opens with a lengthy panning shot of a forest drawn with pen and ink in a distinctive Chinese style not entirely dissimilar to the animated opening of the Japanese live action feature The Mad Fox (Tomu Uchida, 1962) but without the chaos or violence. Among the ink and watercolour-rendered trees wanders a boy playing a flute as he rides a slow moving buffalo, rendered like the backgrounds in pen and ink so that the effect is not of watching clumsily moving images over exquisitely rendered backgrounds, as has often been the case in Western animation departing from the Disney 2D Disney model, but rather of watching a seamlessly moving brush and ink painting. Te Wei had already done this with his groundbreaking Where is Mama? (1960) and he pulls off the same trick again here.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Movies Shorts

Golden Conch (Jin Se De Hai Luo, 金色的海)

Director – Wan Guchan – 1963 – China – Cert. N/C U – 36m

*****

A mermaid falls for a poor fisherman and moves in with him arousing the wrath of her sea goddess mother available to rent online from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021

A coral island, drifting mists, drifting faerie maidens. Underwater. Every morning, says the female narrator, a fisherman goes out in his boat and sings to these mermaids. But their mother the sea goddess doesn’t like to be disturbed so she hides the girls from him by increasing layers of blue fog. 

The fisherman goes about his work and his net keeps picking up a conch shell which he keeps throwing back in the water. When he returns home, there is food prepared on his table, which is odd because he lives alone. 

Next day when he’s out, the camera closes in on his simple cottage. Inside there’s an urn, inside the urn floats the golden conch (the image distorted by patterned glass) which lap dissolves into a faerie maiden. She walks round the house, magics a fire alight in his stove and opens the window to marvel at his singing. … Read the rest

Categories
Animation Art Movies Shorts

Where is Mama? (Xiao Ke Dou Zhao Ma Ma, 小蝌蚪找妈妈)

Director – Te Wei – 1960 – China – Cert. N/C U – 15m

*****

The watercolour paintings of Qi Baishi are brought to life as a group of newly-born tadpoles search for their mother – available to rent online from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021

This has a fairly simple plot which small children might enjoy as much as adults. A frog births some tadpoles, but while it is away they hatch and go around searching for her, not knowing what she looks like. Each creature they encounter – two chicks, two crayfish, three goldfish, a crab, a turtle and, finally, a catfish – gives them a slightly more accurate description than the one before. Eventually – spoiler alert! – they find mama. “But we don’t look like you!”

On some level it works as a children’s story which you can imagine being turned into a picture book for the very young. (There’s a long tradition of animated shorts which fit this bill, some of them are even adapted from already existing children’s picture books.) But that’s not really the film’s strength. Nor is it the Chinese actress’ voice-over which seems to be squarely aimed at little kids.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Baron Prášil)

Director – Karel Zeman – 1961 – Czechoslovakia – Cert. U – 85m

*****

Available on Blu-ray/DVD and now on BFI Player too.

This capsule review originally appeared in Reform in 2017 as part of a wider Watch And Talk review roundup.

Using not only live action but also every form of animation you can imagine, the 1961 Czech fantasy The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (BD/DVD, cert U, 85 mins) puts the infamous teller of tall tales in the company of a rational astronaut he meets on the moon for a series of improbable adventures. It’s a charming and delightful piece of escapism and a visual marvel from start to finish.

Director Karel Zeman has probably come closer than anyone to filming the equivalent of a moving woodcut and the whole thing is highly inventive throughout, challenging the very idea of what a film might look and feel like. Children and adults alike will be entranced. For good measure, the disc includes a documentary in which students try to recreate some of the film’s spectacular special effects.

Trailer here:

This capsule review originally appeared in Reform in 2017 as part of a wider Watch And Talk review roundup.

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Invention For Destruction (Vynález Zkázy)

Director – Karel Zeman – 1958 – Czechoslovakia – Cert. U – 82m

*****

Blu-ray/DVD on sale for a bargain £10/£5 until 21.07.2020 at Arrow Video’s Second Run Sale.

Review originally written as an entry for

the Aurum Film Encyclopedia: War (series editor: Phil Hardy).

Sadly, the book was never published.

Vynález Zkázy

aka

Invention For Destruction,

The Invention Of Destruction,

The Deadly Invention,

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1961, US version)

KRATKY FILM PRAHA | STUDIO LOUTKOVYCH FILMU GOTTWALDOV

Feature length trickfilm adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel Une Invention Diabolique is less about war itself than its causes – specifically scientists who work without regard for how their experimental research will be used by others. Professor Roche (Navrátil) is kidnapped from a sanitarium and taken by clipper (towed by a prototype submarine invisible from the surface) to the island of Back-Cup where mysterious captor Count Artigas (Holub) invites him to continue his research – a task the childlike scientist is happy to undertake. The professor’s travelling companion, research assistant and the film’s narrator Simon Hart (Tokos) wants by contrast to escape and warn the world of Artigan’s plans to attack using a giant gun.

Zeman shoots his film with an all-encompassing diversity of live action and animated techniques, mixing actors, natural history photography and studio sets (augmented by drawings of set sections matted into his locked-off frame) on the one hand with live action and stop-frame puppetry, animated models, drawings and any other method you care to name.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Kill It And Leave This Town

Director – Mariusz Wilczynski– 2020 – Poland – 88m

****1/2

From the Annecy 2020 Online Animation Festival

From its opening of a man smoking in the dark to its closing image of giants tied down on a beach like felled Gullivers in Lilliput, this is awash with the sort of gloomy imagery readily associated with East European art pictures. That’s not to say it isn’t highly effective though. Set partly in a grey, heavily industrialised town where chimneys constantly belch out smoke and partly in a seaside resort, it has a narrative through line but constantly weaves around that with a series of episodes, dreams and memories. Nevertheless it possesses its own, coherent inner logic.

An old woman (Krystyna Janda) wishes her husband (Andrzej Chyra) goodbye as he takes their son Janek (Maja Ostaszewska) out. Later she visits the shops where, although she makes a point of explaining that she has the correct change, no one seems to be interested in actually serving her. Indeed, these are strange shops. Sometimes the fishmonger’s assistant (Malgorzata Kozuchowska) guts fish and sometimes she guts little humans who are around the same size.

At one point a man (Daniel Olbrychski) whose hat conceals that he has the head of a cat delivers an unsettling line about his purposes in the world to do with power, evil and good.… Read the rest